12 May 2015 17:52 IST

How not to do a ‘stupid’ MBA

It’s not about money or status, but the ability to say something that is novel, or revolutionary

If you are currently an MBA student and are reading this, I request that you read on. I am hoping against hope that you have still not turned into a placement obsessed, obnoxious, cliché spitting, several illusionary hat wearing sociopath, whose every second sentence contains terms such as bandwidth, monetize, hedging, ballpark, 4ps, 3cs, 8es or whatever, and insist on pronouncing ‘zed’ as zee in spite of doing your entire schooling under a British-based system.

And that you don't think that Thomas Piketty’s Capital is a guide to becoming rich in a capitalistic world, but instead are well aware of the stigma of carrying an MBA tag in a society where questions on the perils of freewheeling capitalism are now being raised constantly. Finally, don't dismiss this as some kind of philosophical mumbo jumbo but rather introspect when the likes of Larry Page, founder of Google, call MBAs’ approach to doing business ‘stupid’ and express their aversion to hiring MBAs for key roles.

Knowledge, not money

I often use a fantasy example in my classroom — imagine a room full of the top 100 richest people in the world. What is that one thing that will draw attention to, and appreciation of, an individual? Clearly, talking about your 10 jets and two islands, or a routine money making idea, will not help you to stand out among people upon whose doors such things knock practically every other day.

In my view, it will be the ability to tell something that the other people haven’t heard before — something that is novel, inventive, fresh or revolutionary. Knowledge and not money will be the key differentiator. This logic may be translated to most gatherings involving evolved human beings, unless you want to draw adulation from people for whom the intricacies of a daily soap opera are more important than those of cerebral neurons.

You must understand that the current MBA curriculum at the majority of business schools falls short in preparing you to emerge a winner in key societal discourses and in offering solutions to the world’s key problems. If you still think that is not what an MBA is supposed to be doing, read the above seven sentences again. Thus, it is highly important that you read books beyond the routine business ones, much along the lines of a liberal arts education. Further, you must expand your list to include rich literature as well as cutting edge science. For you, Dostoevsky should not just be a name of a Russian missile, and when your jubilant friend informs everyone on social media that he has got a call from Nature, he is not rushing to the loo, but instead is happy to be writing for the most prestigious journal of science.

If you end up in an elevator with a billionaire who is not interested in your ‘pitch’ and instead is keen to know your view on key issues such as 1 per cent vs. 99 per cent, equality, global warming and so on, you must be in a position to logically argue. Most importantly, during your MBA you must also train yourself in the art of logical, rigorous, objective and coherent writing. Combine this with curiosity and an enterprising attitude, and you may be able to defend yourself before PayPal’s founder Peter Thiel, who caricatured the typical MBA as having ‘low conviction’ and ‘extremely herd-like thinking and behaviour’ in his latest book Zero to One.

Subservient corporate framework

In 2014 alone, 147 business schools have shut shop in India alone. As ironic as it may sound, the business schools themselves are responsible for sending the MBA degree to the brink of extinction. In fact, the MBA was never treated as a true master’s qualification, but merely a vocational platform to secure a livelihood in a largely subservient corporate framework. This is the very reason for its failure. The MBA curriculum is too narrow and simple in what it demands from its students, the results of which are now becoming visible. However, growing minorities of MBA students do exist, who have understood the chinks, and are going beyond the stereotypical approach. It is important to join them, or you may have to carry the burden of a stupid degree tag to your grave.